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photo by author

“I see beauty in the ugly,” Richard Harris says in this Chronicle of Higher Education article, “A Healthy Mania for the Macabre.”

One theme of my memoir (forthcoming Spring 2013 from the University of Minnesota Press) is the surface beauty that I saw in cemeteries. Geometric patterns in gravestones. Historic etchings. Flowers. Neatly trimmed grass and shrubs.

I don’t collect the macabre, but I’m drawn to it. One book I read a few years ago in my research was Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography in America. The Victorian era yielded some stunning images of the dead. The reason behind this photography was simple, and the intent far from disturbing: this might be the only image that exists of a family member, especially if the deceased were young. Or families wanted one final portrait with the entire clan, death be damned.

If I had more time, I would try to collect post-mortem photos considering my interest in photography and cemeteries. A quick search on the Internet turns up several sites dedicated to post-mortem photography.

According to the Chronicle article, art historian Paul Koudounaris “suggested that our culture sees death as disgusting and alien because we deny its inevitability.” People who collect the macabre are confronting the reality. What do you think?

Do you collect anything “dark”? If so, what draws you to it? Have you taken post-mortem photographs of your own? It still happens; I’ve seen people snap photos of the dead at wakes in recent years.

Grandpa Hager (my dad’s dad), 1975. I grew up with this picture in our family photo album.